B.C. residents navigate mixed-messaging on outdoor gatherings as warm weather settles in
VANCOUVER -- It finally feels like spring and Metro Vancouver parks and beaches are packed with people reconnecting with friends rarely seen during the recent winter of pandemic discontent.
Current public health orders in B.C. permit gathering outdoors in groups of up to ten people, even among people who don't live together, but with COVID-19 case counts rising, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has cautioned against such gatherings.
“Right now, we have a lot of transmission in communities across the province. So, what does that mean?” she said at Thursday’s modelling briefing. “Even if we can see people outside our household, we shouldn’t right now.”
Despite that advice, Dr. Henry has stopped short of amending the order so that it prohibits people gathering at parks and beaches, which means that those who do must weigh the risks of engaging in behaviour that is technically allowed but strongly discouraged.
It’s another instance of personal choice when it comes to pandemic safety, says psychologist Dr. Joti Samra.
“At the end of the day, we all need to be self-reflecting on that and pay attention to the subtle messages that we’re hearing, and then make our determination of risk,” said Samra in an interview with CTV News Vancouver.
Samra said she recognizes that, for many people, pandemic fatigue has set in and it makes them more willing and more likely to bend the rules, especially when they see others doing it.
“As human beings, we mirror others’ behaviour. So, the reality is, when we see other people doing things and they, apparently to us, look safe and healthy, we are more likely to emulate that behaviour form a social psychological standpoint,” she said.
With temperatures soaring into the twenties in parts of Metro Vancouver, large groups of people have flocked to greenspaces and other outdoor gathering places – many with people outside their immediate household. On Thursday, Henry acknowledged that this was likely to happen – but she also urged people to keep their bubbles small and make smart choices.
“It needs to be the same small group of people. We know that outside is lower risk. It’s not zero, but it is lower risk,” she said, seeming to contradict her statement about not seeing people we don’t live with. “So, have that small group of people that you meet with, that you need to support you, meet them outside. Keep your distance. If you’re going to be in close contact, wear masks – even if it’s outside.”
According to Samra, as a species, we are not great at gauging danger at the best of times, let alone more than a year into a deadly global pandemic that has impacted the health of some far more than others.
“As human beings, we’re very poor at estimating risk. And the longer a period goes that nothing happens to us independently, we get very skewed in our risk estimate,” she said. “So, we think ‘Ah! It’s been 13 months and I haven’t gotten sick, that must mean that my individual risk is low.’ But that’s faulty thinking and it’s very faulty risk-estimation.”
With more easily transmissible variants of concern driving B.C.’s positive COVID-19 numbers, modelling shows the province could be heading for more than 2,000 new cases per day by May.